Notes and Noteiblity: A Tablet Review

By Rochele Brown, Academic Technology Consultant

Taking good notes and studying them effectively can mean the difference between a mediocre or outstanding grade. Like most other Dartmouth students, I managed to get through my four years taking notes on pen and paper, or typing on my laptop. Often, I wished that I could marry the two note taking methods. Handwritten notes can offer more versatility for drawing diagrams, and the act of writing helps me to recall their notes later. Typed notes have the advantage of being more “tidy” and legible, They can also limit the number of books to carry, take advantage of cloud storage, and be searched easily with the computer search function.

As it turns out, you can have the best of both worlds. In preparation for my post-baccalaureate study, I decided to put an up-and-coming and, as of now, underutilized piece of technology to the test in the classroom: the tablet. In short I found that these little devices could be real powerhouses of productivity if utilized to their full potential.

Tablet notes

This is a sample of some notes that I took sitting in on Math 8. I used an iPad and an app called Notability. I was easily able to change colors while writing quickly to make the figure more legible. When studying I may cut and paste the figure into a self made “study guide” in a separate document. Next week, I can also search my notes for “normal vector” if I forget what it means but cannot remember where in my notes I defined it.

Benefits of handwriting on tablets:

  • Handwritten notes can be saved as PDFs and stored in a single device or in a cloud.
  • Many apps and programs offer very accurate handwriting-to-text capability. Some can also convert handwritten formulas to text with the click of a button.
  • Most apps are searchable for handwriting as well as text. Ctrl + F (or Command + F) your notes, just like PDFs on the computer.
  • You can copy, cut, paste, resize, or rotate your handwriting. Some tablets can do this between different apps.
  • Add pictures and diagrams from the web, textbooks, or other documents to your own notes.
  • Record lectures while you take notes. Some apps will play back your handwriting so you can see how you got from A to B clearly.
  • One stop shop for all of your notes, from all of your classes, from any point in your academic career (or whenever you started uploading them).
  • Organize your notes into virtual notebooks and folders.

When it comes to tablets, there are many options, and choosing one that suites your needs should be a top priority. While the iPad has been very popular in academic institutions, it is not necessarily the best option for someone who takes extensive hand written notes. Some tablets to consider if you would like to give digital note taking a try:

Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 2014 Edition and Samsung Galaxy Note Pro 12.2

Price: $450 – $850   |    OS: Android   |   Stylus: Included

This is a wonderful textbook/notebook substitute. It allows multiple windows to be open at once and includes a smart stylus designed for people doing a lot of note taking. It also allows you to copy cut and paste anything that shows up on the screen into your notes. The two tablets are mostly the same, but the large screen on the Note Pro 12.2 lends itself to enhanced features. For example, the 10.1-inch screen has a maximum of 2 windows sharing the screen at once and you cannot float windows over the top. In contrast, the 12.2-inch screen can split the screen between 4 windows and float additional windows over the top. If, like me, you’ll need to have your class notes, the problem set, and the textbook open and readily available at the same time, the 12.2-inch screen may be worth the additional cost. The larger tablet has more RAM and a better battery so you can really make use of the extra features.

Windows Surface Pro 3

Price: $800 – $1300   |    OS: Windows 8.1 (Full Version)   |   Stylus: Included

This tablet is a great option for those who want a tablet and laptop in one. It runs a full version of Windows 8.1 and offers a slim and light keyboard cover. It is pricy, but a great option for those who wouldn’t want to buy and maintain two devices. Most of the features available on the Galaxy Note series have a counterpart on the Surface Pro, so make sure that you compare the features that you want to use most between the two devices before buying.

Apple iPad Air

Price: $480 – $890   |   OS: iOS   |   Stylus: Not Included

This tablet has the ever-familiar iOS and all the bells and whistles that accompany it. While it boasts a clean and easy to use interface, the iPad does not come with a stylus, and is not engineered with the digital handwriter in mind. You will want to research some heavy note-taking apps such as Notes Plus or Notability ($5 – $10 in the App Store) as well as Bluetooth styluses that will give you palm rejection and a small manageable point to write with ($70 – $120). The Adonit Jot Touch, Wacom Intuos Creative Stylus, and Evernote Jot Script are a few of the top Bluetooth styluses. Also keep in mind that the iPad is not as efficient at multitasking as the Surface Pro and the Galaxy Note series, so you will have to do a lot of flipping back and fourth between apps. That being said, the iPad Air still offers a lot of the advantages of digital note taking and can be a wonderful resource for any student wanting to keep digital records of his/her notes and studies.

Posted in Apps, Blog, Recommended Applications